How to Make Donuts From Scratch (Like You Know What You're Doing)

Baking expert Erin McDowell shows us how it's done.

Doughnuts, for me, represent absolute perfection. Don’t get me wrong: Pie is my number one; cake is near the top of my list; and I’ve never met a cookie I didn’t like. But doughnuts…there isn’t much in this world that’s better than a good—no, a GREAT—doughnut. Sure, they can be doused in sugary glaze and topped generously with sprinkles, but the dough itself isn’t too sweet‚it’s just yeasty and light and fluffy and perfect. It’s the ideal canvas for endless variations to suit your whims. 

The real reason doughnuts are so wonderful to me is the connection they have to my past. My grandmother lived in a house built by my great-great-great grandparents: a real little house on the prairie in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. When my grandma was a kid, it was her grandma’s house; same for my dad; and luckily, for me too. Along with the wonderful history of the place itself, the house was home to a lot of our own food history. One day, my grandma pulled out a pretty little yellow tin recipe box. The paint was chipped, but it was lovely and chock-full of my great-great grandma’s recipes. This includes the tattered old card that contained the handwritten recipe for these doughnuts. When a recipe is good, it stands the test of time—and these doughnuts do just that. 

If you need more proof (or aren’t overly sentimental) of doughnuts’ greatness, there’s this: You’re allowed, even encouraged, to eat them for breakfast. Cake and cookies can’t really say that. So, let’s break it down, shall we? 

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The History of Doughnuts

Time for a little doughnut history, y'all. The concept of the doughnut has origins in Dutch, Italian, French, and Russian baking—all cultures that mastered dough (especially of the sweet variety) and weren’t afraid of frying. Archeologists have even found fossilized bits of what appear to be pieces of fried dough across prehistoric Native American grounds.

But, much to our country’s pleasure, the doughnut is pretty much an American invention. The doughnut made its way to the Big Apple in the mid-1600s by way of the Dutch settlers who called them "oily cakes." It was in the mid-19th century that the mother of a ship captain began making deep-fried dough flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon rind. Frying trapped a lot of moisture inside the dough, making them taste relatively fresh (or at least, not horribly stale) even after days and weeks of storage. This savvy baker would stuff nuts in the center of the dough that might not fully cook in the fryer. And so she called them, quite literally, “doughnuts.”

From this time on, there was much heated debate about how doughnuts got the hole in the center. Some say it was a nod to the steering wheel of a ship, others say it was to avoid undercooking the center. Whatever the reason, doughnuts took off—cheap, fast, and easy to produce, they became a primary snack of American troops during the first World War. The hungry boys came home seeking more doughnuts, the first mechanized doughnut machine was built in 1920, and the rest, they say, is history. Doughnuts were prominent throughout the United States, and were so inexpensive to produce that they were a food of the everyman, an attainable treat even during times of poverty or hardship.

Now, the reason for this little history lesson is the name. “Doughnut” is the traditional name of these delicious treats. The word “donut” was coined when manufacturers began to try to market the food overseas—they thought a shorter word might be catchier and easier to remember for those who’d never seen it.

More: Doughnut-cha want more doughnut history

Types of Doughnuts

While I’m particularly fond of the classic yeasted doughnut (and that’s the recipe I’ve included here), there are many different types. 


  • Yeast doughnuts are made from a lightly sweetened yeasted dough that is deep-fried. These doughnuts possess a tender exterior and a fluffy interior.
  • Twists consist of two pieces of yeasted doughnut dough twisted together prior to being fried and glazed. This is worth pointing out because it opens a whole host of fun shaping opportunities for yeasted dough (like my cinnamon roll doughnuts below).
  • Filled doughnuts are most commonly made from yeasted dough because it produces an airy interior which easily makes room for filling. This category includes jelly-filled Berliners, cream-filled or fruit-stuffed doughnuts, Boston Cream, and so on.  
  • Long Johns are a long, rectangular doughnut made from yeasted dough that often have a thicker schmear of glaze and/or a filling.


  • Cake doughnuts are made from a looser batter/dough that is leavened with chemical leavener (baking powder or baking soda). If the batter is loose, these doughnuts may need to be piped rather than cut. These doughnuts have a firmer exterior and a tighter crumb structure on the interior, and they can be baked instead of fried.
  • Crullers are piped doughnuts. While they’re most often thought of as ring-shaped, they can also be made into long rectangles. American crullers are generally made with cake doughnut batter. French crullers are made with pâte à choux dough.
  • Cider doughnuts are a type of cake doughnut made with apple cider and plenty of cinnamon. No fall would be complete without one. Or five.
  • Old-fashioned doughnuts are a type of cake doughnut that is piped or scooped, giving it an irregular shape and therefore, a crispier outer crust. 

International contingent/other:

  • Don’t forget the street foods and snacks of the world. This includes bomboloni (often made with brioche dough) and zeppoles of Italy, Norway’s cardamom-scented smultringer, the jelly filled packzi of Poland, Spain’s churros, Israel's sufganiyot, Latin America’s sopapillas, Japan's sata andagi, east Africa's mandazi, China's you tiao, dozens of German variations, and the New Orleans classic, the beignet. 

In short, there’s a heck of a lot of doughnuts out there. Nowadays, the sky’s the limit. 

How to Make Yeast Doughnuts

The ingredient list for doughnuts is relatively small, but it’s important to understand the ingredients and how they are manipulated to create the end result. Flour provides structure—most recipes will veer towards all-purpose, though specialty recipes may call for cake flour or bread flour if a specific result is trying to be achieved (more tenderness and more structure, respectively). The liquid can simply be water, but it often includes some form of dairy—whether it’s milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, melted butter, or evaporated milk. These liquids help to tenderize the dough as well as provide richness. Yeasted doughnuts often contain very little (or even no) sugar inside the dough, while cake doughnuts often have a more significant amount. A leavener of some kind (whether yeast or chemical), and salt are also a must. Finally, any number of flavoring agents, from dried spices, citrus zest, fresh fruit, juices, cocoa, nuts, maple, etc. 

1. Mix Your Dough

Yeasted dough needs more intense mixing to build structure. Generally yeasted doughnut dough should be mixed on low speed until the dough comes together, then mixed on medium speed to strengthen gluten strands. The dough is not mixed as intensely as brioche—the whole process will take only a few minutes—but much like brioche dough, yeasted doughnut doughs can be quite sticky and can require oiled hands or a sprinkling of flour before handling. Cake doughnut batter, on the other hand, should be mixed minimally to ensure tenderness.

2. Let it Rise

This tidbit doesn’t apply to cake doughnut batters, but when yeast is involved, it’s really important to allow for enough rise time. Generally, this means 1 to 2 hours of bulk fermentation (letting the entire dough rise) and about 30 minutes after shaping. This gets to be a problem for impatient doughnut lovers (isn’t that all of us?). There is a solution. Instead of using warm water to mix the dough, use room temperature water and refrigerate the dough immediately after mixing. Under refrigeration, the dough continues to rise, just much more slowly. This means you can mix the dough up to 12 hours ahead, let it rise slowly overnight, and wake up ready to fry in the morning. 

3. Shape Gently

Doughnuts are rustic but it’s still important to keep shaping in mind because this is where they can go a bit awry. A doughnut cutter is great, but you can improvise if you don’t have one: For a long time, I used a circle cookie cutter and then the base of a large pastry tip. It’s important to make sure the hole itself is large enough—if it’s too small, it will “fill in” when the dough hits the fryer. I also like to cut square doughnuts (no scraps!), using just a pastry wheel—2 inches x 2 inches is a good base size (this same technique works for Long Johns).

When you transfer the dough to the oil, do so carefully: It’s easy to accidentally squish the hole shut or stretch the doughnut into an oblong shape. If the doughnut batter is to be piped, it can be piped directly into the hot oil. Since that can be pretty scary, piping onto squares of parchment can alleviate the fear. When you go to fry, the doughnut will release itself from the parchment, and you just have to remove the parchment from the oil with tongs.  


4. Fry, Baby, Fry

Baked doughnuts are now officially a thing, but let’s be honest: Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. If you have one, use a deep-fry thermometer to test the oil and help regulate the temperature —around 350°F is best. If you don’t have one, do it the way my great-great grandma did: Throw a doughnut hole in and see if it sizzles and rises to the surface. If it does, you’re good to go.

Remember that if the oil is too hot, the doughnuts will brown too quickly and the center may remain raw. If the oil is too cold, the dough will absorb a large quantity of oil and be greasy upon cooling. The perfect doughnut will be evenly golden brown on both sides and pale in the center.

5. Drain, Drain, Drain

My favorite draining system for doughnuts is simple: several layers of absorbent paper towels on a baking sheet. When it gets too saturated, toss the top layers and reveal the fresh ones underneath. Some folks opt for a cooling rack set on top paper towels. Either way is fine, just make sure to use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the doughnuts to start the draining process off right. 

6. Roll or Glaze

This is where it gets fun: the finishing.

For powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or other sugared doughnuts, remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain as desired. After 30 seconds to 1 minute of cooling, toss the doughnuts in the sugar. If you wait for the doughnuts to cool for too long, the sugar won’t stick to the doughnuts. Also, remember that powdered sugar will eventually absorb into the doughnuts, so you’ll either need to toss them again or you should plan on serving them immediately.

For a thin, all over glaze (think classic glazed doughnuts), let the doughnuts cool for 3 to 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Pour the glaze evenly over, fully coating the doughnuts. Let set.

For a thicker glaze (think top of the doughnut only), let the doughnuts cool for 4 to 5 minutes, then dip the doughnuts in the glaze. The thinner the glaze, the more it will run (yum). The thicker the glaze, the more precise it will be. Apply any garnishes to the top of the glaze before it sets, which can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes depending on the glaze. 

Basic Yeast Doughnuts (with Many Variations)

Some finishing options: 

  • Powdered: Toss in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. 
  • Glazed: Mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk (enough to make a runny glaze), and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional). 
  • Chocolate-Glazed: Mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder, and 4 to 5 tablespoons milk or cream. 
  • Chocolate-Coated: Dip doughnuts in tempered chocolate thinned with 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. 
  • Fruit-Glazed: Mix 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/4 cup fruit purée. 
  • Violet-Glazed: Mix 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup cream or milk, and 1 teaspoon violet extract. Garnish with candied violets. 
  • Pistachio: Glaze doughnuts with basic glaze, then press in chopped toasted pistachios. 
  • Coconut: Glaze with coconut glaze (1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup coconut milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla), and press in toasted coconut flakes. 
  • Black and White: Make a dark chocolate ganache with 1 cup chopped dark chocolate and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Make a white chocolate ganache with 1 cup chopped white chocolate with 1/4 cup heavy cream. Glaze half the doughnut with the chocolate glaze and half with the white glaze. 
  • Caramel-Glazed: Melt 1 cup of caramel candies with 1/3 cup heavy cream in the microwave in 10-second blasts until fully melted. Thin the glaze with additional milk or cream as needed to get a pourable glaze. 
  • Meyer Lemon: Mix 1 cup powdered sugar with the zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon, then add enough milk to form a pourable glaze. 
  • Cinnamon Roll: Roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick. Mix together 1 stick melted butter with 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon. Spread the mixture evenly all over the dough, then roll tightly into a cylinder. Cut into 1 inch-thick pieces, then fry until golden brown. Glaze with basic glaze.

7. Eat, Repeat—& Store (If You Must)

The best doughnuts are fresh doughnuts. If you've ever lived anywhere near a Krispy Kreme, you understand. When that magical light went on, it was absolutely worth it to pull over with a total screech to get at those piping hot doughnuts. But even at room temperature, doughnuts are best the same day. If you must, keep them in airtight containers overnight, and enjoy round two. 


Photo of apple cider doughnuts by Yossy Arefi; photo of chocolate doughnut holes by Samantha Seneviratne; all other photos by Alpha Smoot


Time to Make the Doughnuts!

Chocolate Doughnuts Holes (Munchkins)

These chocolate doughnut holes bring to mind classroom birthday parties and Saturday coffee runs with my parents. They’re nostalgic in all the right ways, but so much more delicious when you make them yourself.

Chocolate-Coconut Cake Doughnuts

If you have a soft spot for cake doughnuts, this is the recipe for you. Faintly reminiscent of German chocolate cake, these doughnuts strike a subtle flavor balance by using coconut milk and coconut oil rather than the shredded stuff.

Sufganiyot (Israeli Jelly Doughnuts)

Sufganiyot are traditionally made and eaten during Hanukkah, but Joan Nathan’s recipe is so simple and delectable you’ll want to eat them year-round. Use your favorite jelly for the filling to make them all your own.

Sfenj (Moroccan Doughnuts)

Recipe developer Michael Solomonov claims these are easier to make than sufganiyot, and notes the bulk of their flavor comes from the glaze and toppings, so run wild! Lean into their Middle Eastern heritage with flavors like rosewater and orange blossom.

Cape Malay Doughnuts (Koesisters) 

Another stamp for your doughnut passport! These doughnuts hail from South Africa and feature a heavily spiced dough, a spice syrup, and dessicated coconut coating. The secret to this pillowy soft, bouncy dough? Mashed potato. Brilliant!

Cardamom Doughnuts

These cardamom-laced doughnuts are shockingly baked, not fried, but you would never know considering their soft, fluffy texture.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

There are few things better in life than a fresh cider doughnuts at a picturesque apple orchard in the fall. Sadly, that fantasy is only accessible for a very brief window in time and space, but luckily, you can have piping hot cider doughnuts any time of year. This recipe yields doughnuts that are, dare I say, better than the ones from the orchard.

Which doughnut recipe will you make first? Sound off in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Amysdonuts
  • Bryan Avalos
    Bryan Avalos
  • Tiffany Corrigan
    Tiffany Corrigan
  • Ramona Rodriguez
    Ramona Rodriguez
  • 2centsworth
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Amysdonuts November 3, 2023
Thanks for share content about for donuts in Columbus. for more info:
Amysdonuts September 8, 2023
I agree, I have that same question. Even after watching the video. Our donut shop is Available in Albuquerque.
Bryan A. September 26, 2020
So Interesting! And so fun to make donuts, today is my first day making donuts, but i'm worried that if i let the dough to rise for too long it won't come out as planned, so i let tge dough to rise
for 1 hour and 30 minutes, is that good?
Tiffany C. March 28, 2020
Lady! U rock. I’m scared...but gonna try it with the teens today. Cross fingers
Ramona R. February 7, 2020
I can't find the recipe where's the recipe
2centsworth February 24, 2020
Click on recipes at top banner - then type in yeast donuts in the search:
1 1/2 cups whole milk (12 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup water (2 1/2 ounces)
4 tablespoons butter (2 ounces)
5 cups all-purpose flour (25 ounces)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 eggs
6 cups Vegetable oil, for frying (use more if needed)
2centsworth November 27, 2019
Did anyone actually make this recipe? Do you let the dough rise again after rolling and cutting the donuts from the dough? If so, how long? Doubled in size? The video nor instructions mentions it. The video is very misleading unless Erin didn't let them rise the 2nd time.
2centsworth February 24, 2020
I agree, I have that same question. Even after watching the video.
Vickie S. March 28, 2020
Yes you do.
Tulin A. August 6, 2019
This is going to be my first time making doughnuts and u explained it in the most perfect way possible but I do have a question where do we get the measurements from because this is my first time using this website
Cassandra N. July 4, 2019
I for the life of me cant get the texture of a Krispy cream. My donuts always end up to much dough. I am high elevation, I've tried every change for high altitude. Plus regular recipes. How do you make the dough come out fluffy and crispy?
Like I said I've made over 10 batches and still can't get close to light n fluffy.
Any advice would be great!
Thanks a bunch
Jade B. September 26, 2016
I am happy to have found this article about donuts. I did not know that filled donuts were most commonly made from dough with more yeast. It makes sense that this would provide an interior with more space for filling. Something to consider would be to have a clean working area when making this treat.
Tracer L. September 6, 2016
What youmhave to remember is that real doughnuts are yeast raised and you use VERY LITTLE to NO SUGAR in the dough. Donuts made in the U.S. today all mostly made with plain bread dough with a lot (LOT) of added sugar. These "bakery shop" doughnuts can/could/should make anyone gag. SUGAR in the U.S. is the number one (1) ruination of most all food consumed today. Also - remember that over time, every ingredient in cooking has been modified and changed to make things quicker and easier. When buying supplies for baking, ALWAYS bake from scratch only and find and use the ingredients that as closely resemble those your mother or grandmother could buy. Real butter and NO margarine - Canned condensed milk to replace raw milk from earlier times - one jumbo egg today is equal to one small egg in the past. Think about what used to be or buy only cookbooks published before 1950. When we went to convenience foods; and ingrediants, we went to an obese nation of sugar pigs.
tango M. January 17, 2018
you mad?
Brandy T. March 28, 2020
Cristina S. September 18, 2015
Erin, this article is all sorts of amazing.
krista April 20, 2015
Can I increase the amount of sugar in the dough? I felt like it needed to be a little sweeter. They also came out too chewy. Did I mix too long? or not long enough?
Ron March 26, 2017
I have the same question. Could you answer the question please ?
ANDREASTROBL March 26, 2015
I love this, thank you <3
Gary G. March 15, 2015
Sorry to take up further space but permit me one more correction, as one should not go by memory. It wasn't Washington Irving, but Nathaniel Hawthorne who referred to the doughnut as a Puritan dish, and the term he used (circa-1860 at any rate) was "Puritan dainty". In my view, the new England/Puritan tradition is separable culturally and geographically from the New York/Hudson Valley Dutch one and this reference to Puritans reinforces an old English origin for the dish.

Thanks again.

Gary G. March 15, 2015
Sorry, not "fried bread", but "fried dough" it was in those Hudson Valley towns. I believe these are direct descendants of the Dutch oely-koeken (different spellings) that are thought to be at the bottom of the doughnut, but I think in fact these are different traditions.

Washington Irving in an 1860 book referred to the doughnut and some other well-known American pies and pastries as a "Puritan delicacy", which suggests again an English origin. The famous dough boy as in Pillsbury dough boy surely is connected as well? Anyway all very interesting and your recipes look great. We are very proud in Canada of the Tim Horton Donut chain which has become part of Canadiana now.


Gary G. March 14, 2015
Hey good article but this English news article from last year is persuasive in my view to argue donuts are English in origin:

I always felt a British origin made sense and that doughnuts were an obscure regional food brought over on the Mayflower. Like other English-origin foods, they simply achieved more prominence here than in the Old Country.

It is unlikely in my view a British gentlewoman in 1800 would have submitted to any influence from America in her cooking. Virtually no American cookbooks had yet been written, and as a recent colony I don't think the English would in any case take inspiration from America in cooking mores. (That came in time, but not then and not in this way).

I've had "fried bread" in small towns along the Hudson River in New York State and it isn't really like a donut. I recall it as more the size of a piece of foccacia bread, kind of flat or at least irregular shaped.

"Dow" would have been an alternate spelling for dough, this was a time when spelling was not regularized. I think too dough boy was another old British confection and I'd think there is some connection probably to the donut or doughnut. No question the Americans perfected it and made it what it is today but still the Baroness's recipe is pretty close to some donuts you can still buy today.


Gary Gillman, Toronto.
Antonio B. March 13, 2015
Amazing Slavic Girls 100% REAL. Watch them ONLINE!!!
cyrillicas March 13, 2015
Very interesting! You know, i'm from argentina and here they're also called churros! Even what you describe as 'twists' are often sold as churros, but really i didn't know they were made with the same kind of dough as donuts (since churros are closer to crullers).
I'll try your recipe to make twists (since i don't have a churrera) and see how it goes!
Yael E. March 9, 2015
Absolutely awesome article.....puts it all in nice, neat organized shape ( for me at least!). Printing it out to keep on hand. Thanks!!
Caren H. March 7, 2015
It says vegetable oil for frying, Any specific kind?
Erin J. March 7, 2015
Any kind of neutral frying oil is fine: corn, canola, vegetable, peanut, etc!
Kristie L. April 15, 2020
What makes an oil a "neutral" oil?